As far back as 1968, it seems, “Assertions that studying is best done at a desk rather than on a bed [were] largely untested.” Prompting Robert Gifford (who was then a research assistant at the University of California, but who is now a professor at the Department of Psychology, University of Victoria, Canada) along with Robert Sommer (now Distinguished Professor of Psychology Emeritus at UC Davis) to embark on a project to measure the effectiveness (or otherwise) of studying in bed. They conducted empirical enquiries at three prominent US universities, four state colleges and one junior college. (Students who were found to be studying on the floor, or any place other than a bed or desk were discounted from the dataset). Results were published in their paper : The Desk or the Bed? (Personnel and Guidance Journal, Volume 46, Issue 9, May 1968, Pages: 876–878) The study revealed that – “Almost as many students were found studying on their beds as were found at their desks.” And led to the conclusion that – “There is nothing in these data to support the recommendations for studying in a straight-backed chair at a desk.” The professors had advice for the future too : “The frequent use of beds, couches, and other non-desk study areas has implications for the design and furnishing of study rooms in schools and colleges.”
Improbable is unaware of how many academic institutions followed this advice in a practical way. Please let us know, if you know, of any lecture rooms, libraries &etc that were subsequently provided with beds.
The full paper can be read here
BONUS: Over the years, other prominent academics, writers and artists have expounded the virtues of a bed-based intellectual environment. Take for example Dr. Samuel Langhorne Clemens (D. Litt., Oxford). Here he is pictured in his favourite creative mode (photo courtesy New York Public Library)